Hi. I’m Matty Wishnow, Founder and CEO at Clearhead.
I live with my wife, three kids, two dogs and thousands and thousands of (vinyl) records in Austin, TX. I moved to Austin in 2011, following three decades in New York, for every reason you might imagine. In addition to my family, I spend a lot of time thinking about advanced baseball stats, 1950s/60s furniture, Van Morrison’s 70s to 80s period of transition, and mostly, the career of former Baltimore Orioles great, Eddie Murray.
A common thread between us was that we were each operators who had strived to be increasingly data driven in running digital, specifically transactional, businesses. We had tried doing it ourselves, bought the tools, heard the buzzwords, invested in new roles and, all too often, found that our aspirations outpaced our ability to get the full value from the data we were working so hard to understand. We were proud of both our scars and the solutions we had arrived at chasing continuous optimization.
We had tried doing it ourselves, bought the tools, heard the buzzwords, invested in new roles and, all too often, found that our aspirations outpaced our ability to get the full value from the data we were working so hard to understand.
My own path to Clearhead began in the late 1990s when I started Insound.com, an early and lovable online music store that sold vinyl and beautiful music products (silk screened posters, turntables, etc.) to music nerds. Insound was the little engine that could, surviving and even prospering for longer than any other online record store — in no small part because of our team’s focus on data and testing as our path forward.
But that path wasn’t always so clear. My first 18 months in business, exuberantly and naively chasing big ideas, big designs and undetermined goals, we nearly ran the company into the ground. I quickly learned, fortunately, that though I knew as much about Insound.com as any one person, I didn’t know more than every customer combined. As a stats nerd, I officially embarked on my testing and analytics journey around 2000, when I realized that iterative improvement could be the difference between making payroll or not (we were not a venture-backed company). The difference between saving or sinking Insound. Mind you, 15 years ago, data was a lot harder to come by. Analytics, testing and personalization tools were not what they are today. And yet — we did our very best to enable confident and data validated decisions. Every day.
I quickly learned, fortunately, that though I knew as much about Insound.com as any one person, I didn’t know more than every customer combined.
For about 5 years, I also ran the worldwide Direct to Consumer businesses for Warner Music Group. It was there where I met Ryan. It was also there where I saw how great the need, risk and for testing and optimization really was. Our team was huge. The investments were significant. Opinions were everywhere. Prioritization was a bear. “Analytics” had become a euphemism for “reporting on data that nobody really believed and nobody did anything with.” Testing was something you did after a decision was made. And a small fortune was being paid for software, design and product management because, well, we had to.
“Analytics” had become a euphemism for “reporting on data that nobody really believed and nobody did anything with.”
During my years at Warner, I experienced two marked shifts in my thinking:
First — I realized that, like many of my colleagues and their businesses, I had gotten stuck in the capture and reporting of data instead of the development and validation of hypotheses. Everybody was waiting for the data to tell us something instead of asking questions for data to help us answer and act on. I concluded that, more than anything else, the data we had should be used to develop and validate hypotheses. If we weren’t doing that. We weren’t doing anything.
Second — I began to think of testing and optimization as not, just another thing to do to drive revenue and conversion, but as THE thing to do driving all decisions. Optimization isn’t the foot of the river. It’s the mouth of the river. It’s the whole river.
I certainly was not alone in these recognitions. A generation of native digitals were way ahead of me. The Lean Startup was percolating in Eric Ries’ mind. And, meanwhile investments in digital design, engineering, marketing and content are is going up. Cost and risk is going up, as well. But, most of the work is invalidated by data. Too many people don’t know if their work is good or great or fair or likely to move the needle. Or why? Change cycles are slow. And inertia had set in for many companies buoyed by the organic growth of the web.
But, most of the work is invalidated by data. Too many people don’t know if their work is good or great or fair or likely to move the needle.
Though not entirely evident five years ago, it seems that what I was intuiting was on the tip of most everyone’s tongue. Conditions had become increasingly favorable for a sea-change in e-commerce, driven by emerging trends and capabilities related to data. User experience design had introduced more science and rigor to web design and web development had been increasingly wrapped in product development methods that emphasized research and testing. Further, and perhaps most importantly, there was also a new wave of faster, powerful more supportable analytics and testing tools enhancing the capabilities of business users.
And by 2011, what I observed was this: Scores of digital business organizations all talking in very similar ways about a common problem. Everybody wanted to be really data driven. They wanted to cash in on the promise of analytics that they had been investing in for some time now. They were tired of thinking of “testing,” “personalization” and “optimization” as side projects; as something they’d get serious about next year. As a promised land perpetually out of reach.
Because, even in 2012 — and still today — in spite of smart, good intentions, it is hard to change fundamental organizational behavior while you are busy simply getting work out the door. And the hard part about optimization is not buying the software or constructing the A/B test or looking at the report. It’s the wholesale change.
With Clearhead, that’s what and whom I wanted to solve for.
I wanted to build a company that helps entrepreneurial executives looking to change and improve faster, with the benefit of data, confidence and emerging practices and technologies. One that put the buzzwords to rest and made all of the noise of rapid and disruptive change feel more…well…clearheaded.
Most organizations aren’t built to solve this simply because the roles, methods and technologies are so new and changing so quickly. But moreover because it’s hard to rebuild the ship while you are out at sea every day. And most agencies aren’t built to solve this because, well, this isn’t what they get paid to solve. They solve the old problems. The problems that we know. This was the problem on the tip of everyone’s tongue. This was something new.
And with a tiny supernova of excitement, Ryan, Sam and I launched Clearhead, the validation and optimization agency. We are a team applied against both technology (your technology) and a process for data driven optimization that is meticulous, tested and constantly getting smarter.
When we started Clearhead, I promised myself and the very best team in Austin the following:
- We’d hire the most likable, curious and middle-brained out there.
- We’d work with clients that share our desire to change and improve quickly with the benefit of data and validated hypotheses.
- We’d each have the ability to both teach and learn at an incredible pace.
- We’d be a company that enables and rewards continuous improvement — of our business fundamentals, of our process and of our team.
- We’d enjoy the confident knowledge of how, what and why we are doing moves the needle for our clients.
- We’d have the day to day appreciation of the fact that we are solving real problems and adding real value for innovative leaders and organizations. Let everybody else solve old problems the old ways.
So far, six for six.
Founder & CEO, Clearhead
I’m always curious to meet awesome humans with great questions.
Let’s find time to talk.